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Posts Tagged ‘cinema’

Lost in Translation

November 21, 2014 | by

Why has Italian cinema lost its appeal abroad?

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A still from La grande bellezza, 2013.

It must be the Ponentino—the wind from the sea—blowing through the baroque gardens, or the scent of the Roman pines rising from ruins, but each time I return to Italy, I realize how much I miss its decadence. Yes, it’s this breeze, fresh yet melancholic, that makes me think of the persistent sense of fallacy in the eternal city. And while I can’t escape being mesmerized by Rome’s beauty, I question why contemporary Italian culture doesn’t travel or translate. It is as if Italy is appreciated only for what it was and not for what it has become.

While I appreciate the current popularity of Scandinavian literature, or the enthusiasm, periodically revived, for Latin American writers, I have to wonder why, or, indeed, if, Italian authors are less interesting to the Anglo-Saxon public than those spare, gritty Northerners and quixotic Latinos. Italy has produced a few celebrated authors, but there has never been a real fascination for our literature.

Cinema is a different story, perhaps because of its more immediate seductive power of images. La Dolce Vita was unique in making Romans feel that we lived, at least vicariously, in the caput mundi—the capital of the world. The film is the portrait of an Inferno costumed as a Paradise. Its glamorous description of Roman decadence generated a fashion, and people all over the world dreamed of enjoying those orgies, dressing in those stylish suits, driving those convertibles, listening to that music, and bathing in the Fountain of Trevi. As one character says, “to live within the harmony of perfect beauty.” Who wouldn’t subscribe to that fantasy? I would be the first, if I could ignore the fact that the intellectual who delivers the line commits suicide after killing his own children.

Federico Fellini has captured the city’s paradoxes—its wisdom and disenchantment, provinciality and universalism, morbid religiosity and virulent secularism—better than any artist before or since. And he did it again with Roma, Toby Dammit, and Satyricon, a science-fiction film set in a desperate, godless past. Since the heyday of neorealism, some of our best films have dealt with the same phenomena of glorious corruption and placid surrender to dissolution. It happened last year with La grande bellezza, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, a homage to Fellini, and la grande eccezione—the great exception in an otherwise fairly desolate artistic landscape. Read More »

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The Golden West: An Interview with Daniel Fuchs

July 16, 2014 | by

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Doris Day and James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me, for which Daniel Fuchs wrote the screenplay.

In early 1989, I telephoned Daniel Fuchs (1909–93), then in his eightieth year, in Los Angeles to ask about the possibility of interviewing him for The Paris Review. The novelist and screenwriter—heralded for his Williamsburg Trilogy of the 1930s (Summer in Williamsburg, Homage to Blenholt, and Low Company) and Love Me or Leave Me, for which he won an Academy Award—was cordial and open, but stipulated that he preferred to have the questions sent to him; he would mail back his answers. I sent the questions, twenty-seven of them, to Fuchs that February, and at first there appeared to be clear sailing—the writer said he would soon have something.

At the same time, Fuchs expressed a concern about the handling of the copyright when the interview was printed, and over the next several weeks it became increasingly difficult to allay or understand his fears. Although I’d assured him the rights would revert immediately to him upon publication, he remained concerned, asking for a signed warranty from George Plimpton. When this wasn’t quickly sent—owing to office delays rather than any disinclination—the writer grew vehement, and then abusive. Reluctantly I let go of the idea of seeing through an interview with Fuchs, whose work remains too much of a secret to this day.

A year or so after Fuch’s death in 1995, having been informed that the writer’s papers were in Special Collections at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University, I phoned Dr. Howard Gotlieb, the Special Collections librarian, to ask if, by any chance, there was an interview circa 1989 among the papers. Indeed there was. Fuchs had constructed an interview that, while based on my questions, departs from them in unexpected and telling ways. It amounts to a late work by the distinguished, if unexpectedly irascible, “magician,” as John Updike once pronounced him.

You have been identified by Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and others as one of three Jewish novelists of the 1930s whose work has survived a half century now, the other two being Henry Roth and Nathanael West. Would you comment on the literary climate of the thirties?

Survived, rediscovered—a peculiar occurrence. A man sits in a room writing novels. Nothing happens. The books don’t sell—four hundred apiece, the last one a few more. There are scattered reviews. Then thirty years later, suddenly, the books are brought out, again and again, acclaimed. A small-sized mystery. Of course, I’m talking only of my own books. Call It Sleep and Nathanael West’s work attracted attention from the start and were well known all along.

Did you read Call It Sleep when it came out?

With pleasure and pangs of jealousy.

Nathaniel West went to Hollywood and wrote B movies and worked on his last novel, The Day of the Locust, which in its final sentence seems to indicate that the protagonist has succumbed to the furies around him in Hollywood and gone mad. Henry Roth moved to rural Maine and hasn’t, as of now, published another novel. You gave up a literary career for several decades to write movies. Is there a common thread in all this?

No, I don’t think so. West kept working on his own material up to the end, while he was doing the pictures at Republic. Roth had his own reasons. I liked it in Hollywood and stayed on. I found the life most agreeable. Mordecai Richler went out of his way, in a book review, to say I bragged about the money I made in Hollywood. Actually, I never made a great deal of money in the movies. Sixty thousand dollars a year was about the best I could do, if Richler doesn’t mind my saying so. In fact, I went nearly broke, had to sell my house, and then an amazing thing happened, another one of those mysteries. A benefactor, a character out of a Molnár play—I can’t say his name, he once asked me never to bother him or intrude—stepped forward. He’s been watching out for us over the past number of years and we’re quite comfortable. I guess I mention all this to get a rise out of Richler. Hollywood strikes a nerve in some people. Read More »

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The Origins of Barbecue, and Other News

May 5, 2014 | by

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Photo: Derrick Tyson, via Flickr

  • The secret libraries of New York. (None of them are technically secrets, but “the comparatively less well-known libraries of New York” doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
  • “A surveillance society … threatens our interiority, our right to a private self that ensures we can never be fully transparent, to others or to ourselves. In a culture driven to render us ever more transparent to one another, literature and art may be among the few spaces in which to keep hold of this understanding of the private self.”
  • On the disappearance of spectacular cinema: “As the bulk of filmmaking has shifted away from studio productions and virtually all movies except for franchises have become, in effect, independent films, movies have fallen into conflicting extremes of artifice and of reality, and the idea of reality has become a sort of critical cult.”
  • “The first indigenous tribes Christopher Columbus encountered on the island he named Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, created using green wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning. Reports indicate that the Spanish referred to this new style of cooking as barbacoa: the original barbecue.”
  • These statues are very, very, arrestingly large.

 

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River of Fundament

February 12, 2014 | by

Matthew Barney’s singular new film.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Ren, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Chris Winget. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still. Photo: David Regen. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney, Djed, 2009-2011, Cast iron and graphite block, 20 1/4 x 406 x 399 inches (50.2 x 1031.2 x 1013.5 cm). Photo: David Regen. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Khu, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament: Khu, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © Matthew Barney.

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Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler, River of Fundament, 2014, Production Still. Photo: Keith Riley. © Matthew Barney.

Matthew Barney’s studio, the birthing place of some of the biggest and most ambitious art of our time, sits in an industrial New York netherzone by the East River in Queens. A couple blocks down is a garage for cast-off food carts in states of obliteration and disarray. On the streets stroll workers whose sturdy coats solicit calls to 888-WASTEOIL, for the service of all waste-oil wants and needs. Alongside the studio the mercurial river flows, its current changing direction several times a day.

Inside are forklifts to move things like six-ton blocks of salt and sculpturally abetted Trans Ams. Football jerseys hang on a wall, including one for the fabled Oakland Raiders center Jim Otto (his number, 00, puts Barney in mind of extra-bodily orifices). A staff of a half dozen studio hands oversees projects of enterprising kinds, from building and bracing large architectural oddities to disrupting and destroying sculptures and letting objects rot.

It was here that Barney completed River of Fundament, a new epic film project premiering this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with a running time of nearly six hours (including two intermissions) and passages that play as extravagantly abstracted and absurd. The film was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings, set in ancient Egypt and invested in stages of reincarnation that come after death. The story would not seem to be eminently filmable.

But River of Fundament is not exactly a film. It draws on a series of site-specific performances and elaborate happenings—live actions related to the project date back as far as 2007—and all of them, however cinematically presented in the end, fit as sensibly within the traditions of theater and opera. Shoots lasted for days, doubling as rituals or séances, with characters performing for an audience that would come to be part of the work. Read More »

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Don’t You Forget About Me

August 6, 2013 | by

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Some people revere Jean-Luc Godard, others obsess over finding subliminal messages in the films of Stanley Kubrick. Much as I love the work of these masters, the filmmaker whose work I tend to think the most about is John Hughes. From the iconic films he both wrote and directed (The Breakfast Club, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) to those he wrote and produced (Home Alone) the movies Hughes helped create between 1984 and 1991 are all classics in my eyes. (Even I will admit that after that his work gets really iffy: 101 Dalmatians, anybody?) I grew up laughing at his films, and when I eventually found myself homesick for the Chicagoland area I knew growing up, I’d revisit the copies of his films that I still watch on a monthly basis. Eventually I’d come to the realization that while David Kamp rightfully called Hughes the “Sweet Bard of Youth” in his 2010 Vanity Fair piece on the late director, I came to realize—thanks in large part to the distance between me and the place where I grew up—that Hughes was something even more; that he was to Chicago and its northern suburbs what Woody Allen was to Manhattan in the seventies and eighties. He made being from those bland suburbs seem more interesting than I recalled.

Read More »

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Watch Richard Wright Act in Native Son

July 15, 2013 | by

In 1948, Richard Wright starred in this screen test for the film adaptation of his classic 1940 novel, Native Son. Says Studio 360’s Amanda Aronczyk, “if that sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it was”—not least because the non-actor was twice as old as twenty-year-old Bigger Thomas—but this clip remains a fascinating piece of literary and cinematic history.

 

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